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Sierra Club Releases Vision of RTID Highway Building Plan

A reduced package prioritizes moving goods and people, making infrastructure safer and addressing global warming pollution

In a letter to the Regional Transportation Investment District (RTID) Board, the Sierra Club released an outline to illustrate how leaders could refocus the RTID funding package to address the serious issues of global warming, fiscal accountability and regional mobility. It highlights projects that enhance transit reliability on major highways, improve local grid mobility and prevent a ballooning of carbon dioxide pollution in the region.

“There’s still time for our public officials to ramp down the exuberant funding on highway spending in the draft package,” said Mike O’Brien, the Cascade Chapter Chair. “As gas prices soar, it is wrong to lock us into a highway-building program that doesn’t help our region’s mobility. We cannot sacrifice Sound Transit by weighting it down with an overreaching, fiscally irresponsible highway spending bill that digs the global warming hole deeper.”

The Sierra Club emphasizes three priorities:

  • A fully funded Sound Transit 2 package;
  • “Fix-it-first” highway spending: includes safety projects like replacing the SR 520 and South Park bridges, and improving I-405 in Bellevue to reduce braiding;
  • Prioritizing projects that improve roads for transit and HOV use, such as Snohomish County Transit improvements or adding HOV direct-access ramps on I-5 at Industrial Way S. (SoDo busway) and at the Lakewood Transit Center.

The reprioritization of the projects has the added benefit of slimming down the package – the most essential pieces can be done with about half the amount of money asked for by the RTID. Its board can eliminate the regressive sales tax for roads and slice the motor vehicle excise tax to 0.5%.

“The most efficient and effective use of taxpayer dollars is to make the current infrastructure work better,” said Tim Gould, Cascade Chapter Transportation Chair. “We can’t build our way out of global warming or bad traffic. With a combination of strategic road projects and tolls, we can spend less money and get better results. We need to offer commuters more buses and light rail choices, fix unsafe choke points, and finish the most pressing projects – all in our lifetimes.”

According to data from the Center for Clean Air Policy and from Environmental Defense, even the best case scenario for “techno-fixes” like clean vehicles and low-carbon fuels will not provide enough greenhouse gas reductions to stabilize the climate. We must reduce vehicle miles traveled by increasing convenient alternatives, pricing our current roads, and resisting investments in new highway capacity.

“In the past two years – while this package was being negotiated – the scientific case for global warming has become stronger and the public’s demand for solutions has escalated,” said O’Brien. “Why would we, in good conscience, build more roads when we now know we need to significantly reduce vehicle miles traveled in order to stabilize our climate?”

The Sierra Club is pushing for a package that includes:

  • Cost-effective mobility which emphasizes moving people and goods in a well-connected and maintained multi-modal system;
  • Tangible reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, other environmental effects, and improvement in human health and safety;
  • Better integrated regional transportation and land use planning, and transportation investments that support smart land use and minimize or prevent additional sprawl;
  • Preserve fiscal resources that allow local jurisdictions to fund transit, sidewalks, bike paths, maintenance projects, and local arterial improvement projects;

· A policy of no unpriced, new general-purpose lanes on limited-access highways anywhere in the Puget Sound urban area. Additionally, dynamic tolling (i.e., congestion pricing) of all, including existing, limited-access highways should be introduced in the region.

Gould continued: “Pollution from vehicles is the biggest piece of the pie when it comes to global warming emissions in the Puget Sound region. Any and all transportation projects need to be assessed in terms of how much they contribute to the problem. Our Governor, mayors and county officials have committed to reducing emissions – they need to figure out how to do that in our transportation system.”

The Sierra Club Cascade Chapter’s Cool State Campaign is working to ensure Washington commits to reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by 2050. By making smart energy and transportation choices, we can reduce greenhouse gas emissions, provide mobility choices, save money for people and for government, reduce air and water pollution, and improve the health of our citizens and our communities. If we do this, we will also create the foundation for more prosperous, humane and equitable Washington. The Sierra Club’s Cool State Campaign focuses on action by individuals, businesses and government at all levels. We encourage cities to sign and implement the Mayor’s Climate Protection Initiative. We expect our Governor and Legislature to commit to firm greenhouse gas reduction targets and specific actions. And we are working to reform regional transportation policy to shift from failed auto-centric policies of the past to proven strategies that provide clean affordable mobility for all citizens.